Last month, we had the first of some proper home cooking posts from my domestic goddess pal Tracy O’Meara. She showed us how to make tasty – and flu-fighting – syrups and cordials out of the humble berry. This month it’s time to start thinking about Christmas, especially if you’re going to make as much stuff as she does!
So, without further ado, here’s Tracy with all her advice on what you need to be doing to stock up for the festive season…
I’m not the most organised of people – events which I think are weeks away tend to come up and slap me on the back of the head when I least expect it, regularly. That’s the trouble when you work and juggle a family – unless you are lucky enough to own a TARDIS of course.
For those of us who don’t, there are a couple of easy things we can make now that will quietly sit in the cupboard and get better and better as Christmas approaches and will be ready when you are. I promise, all the recipes below are very impressive when shoved into little jars and tied with either a pretty ribbon or a trendy piece of string and a brown label.
Sounds like a faff I know, but trust me on this one, it’s fabulous! You can also bask in the glory of claiming ‘homemade status’ and really fool people into thinking you are a domestic goddess. We can’t really all be mini, curvy, pouting Nigellas now can we?
Now, you will need some jam jars for this – you can buy new ones or you can recycle. Either way, they need to be sterilised! The list of ingredients does seem long, but stick with it – I promise the smell of Christmas that pervades your kitchen will more than make up for the time spent shopping, and of course your halo will be blinding. As always, try to buy the best you can afford – value fruit will be fine, but the more expensive dried fruit will be plumper and more luxurious.
250g seedless raisins
65g mixed peel (normally I don’t like mixed peel, but we have to go with it on this recipe)
250g cooking apples, peeled, cored and finely chopped (you can scrump from the hedgerows if you can find them)
125g butter (softened)
Grated zest of half a lemon (use the other half for a G&T – you deserve it after the shopping!)
Grated zest of half an orange
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
A pinch of allspice
250g dark brown sugar
250ml brandy or dark rum
Kick off your shoes and now comes the fun part!
In a large bowl mix the fruit, apples, butter, zest and spices together until well combined.
Dissolve the sugar in the brandy and pour over the mixture, cover and let stand overnight.
The next day mix again and put mixture into the sterilised jam jars and leave for up to 3-4 weeks before using (or giving as a present). HOW EASY IS THAT!!!
Raspberry Gin (or Vodka)
If you’ve survived the above and it’s turned out okay, why not try your hand at something even better….. flavoured gin and/or vodka!!! This recipe is super easy and you can get fabulous little bottles from places like The Range, Wilkinsons, etc. that look beautiful when filled with this nectar of the gods and tied with a pretty ribbon/trendy label as above. The colour is incredible.
1 litre Gin or Vodka (or 1¾ pints if you are old fashioned like me!)
1 litre jar with screw top lid (sterilised is good but clean will do).
Put fruit in a 1 litre (or 1¾ pint) jar and sprinkle the sugar on the top.
Fill the jar up with the gin (or vodka).
Seal and shake gently until the sugar is dissolved.
Put in a dark cupboard and turn once a day (this is ideally if you can remember but if it slips the odd day, it won’t matter too much).
After 10 weeks – DRINK!!! Sharing with friends is great, giving as a present is lovely, but having a cheeky nip in the evenings curled up on the sofa is even better. If you have the willpower to leave it, I believe it does improve with age so even a year on, if kept in a dark place, it should be very drinkable. I’ve never managed to keep this long, so I can’t confirm I’m afraid.
Sloe Gin – nature’s hot water bottle on a cold day!
You’re out on a cold walk, your nose is red, your ears are numb and your hands are swiftly following suit. What do you do? Whip out a hip flask of sloe gin!! I promise if you are not steaming in your vests within half an hour, then nothing will ever help. Equally, enjoy a sip by the fire – with friends is good, equally a quiet 10 minutes on your own is just as good. Here we go:
Sterilise a couple of medium-sized flip top or screw top bottles (you can recycle here)
No pain, no gain. First prick the sloes (again, good idea to do this with a glass of wine and a friend)
Put equal amounts of sloes and sugar into each bottle.
Fill each bottle with gin and seal.
Shake gently for a while to kick-start the sugar dissolving
For the first day only, I’m afraid you will need to turn the bottles every hour or so (but it will help avoid bingo wings), then once a day for the first week, then whenever you remember. To keep the colour, pop into a dark cupboard.
Leave for at least 6 weeks, preferably 10 if you can, and if you are able, this brew will keep for years and keep on improving.